What Is Cooperative Play? 9 Incredible Benefits & Examples!

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 07/16/21 •  7 min read

Whether sharing a spade in a sandpit or playing a simple game of tag, encouraging your child to use their cooperative play skills is incredibly important. 

This is because everything they say, play and do will offer them chances to explore the world around them, establish friendships and learn what they are capable of.

Cooperative play forms the foundations of ALL future interactions so it’s super important!

So what is cooperative play? What are the benefits of this type of play? And how can we encourage our little ones to play cooperatively? Well, keep on reading to learn all this and more!

What Is Cooperative Play?

Co-operative play is the final of the 6 developmental stages of play where children will work together with a common goal in a cooperative fashion.

They are able to follow rules and share, rather than be motivated solely by their own needs and desires.

So what defines cooperative play?

What Are The 10 Characteristics Of Cooperative Play?

Cooperative play is characterised in children when they do the following:

  1. Play together to achieve a common goal,
  2. Take turns,
  3. Follow rules,
  4. Share without prompting,
  5. Accept agreed roles in play,
  6. Communicate a desired outcome,
  7. Learn from others,
  8. Are aware of others feelings,
  9. Discuss and listen to others ideas, 
  10. Play together and be fully aware and engaged in what others are doing.

So why is cooperative play SO important for a child’s development?

Why Is Cooperative Play Important? 9 Incredible Benefits!

Cooperative play is very important as it is the basis on which all future social interactions with others will be built from. 

Through cooperative play, children learn how to:

  1. Work together, share and take turns.
  2. Take others’ feelings into consideration by listening to what others have to say and resolving disagreements.
  3. Improve their problem-solving skills.
  4. Establish leadership qualities as well as teach the benefits of being part of a team.

Cooperative play opportunities will also help to:

  1. Develop language and cognitive skills.
  2. Teach self-regulation.
  3. Deal with the expectations of others.

It is also the stage at which the first meaningful friendships with peers will start to develop!

Finally, it has been proven that children who are given the opportunity to engage in cooperative play are more likely to succeed socially and academically at school and be less aggressive or withdrawn in a social setting.

In short, cooperative play is the ground roots from which social competence will grow! So it’s pretty important!

At What Age Does Cooperative Play Occur?

Cooperative play is the final stage of the six stages of play where all the skills learnt through the other stages finally come together between 4-5 years of age.

As always, children develop at different rates, so some children may reach this stage a little earlier or later than this. So, be patient and try not to compare your child with others.

TOP TIP: If you’re at all concerned about your child’s development, be sure to contact your paediatrician

The Six Stages Of Play

Here’s a quick recap of the 6 types of play you can expect your little one to engage with in the early years.

1. Unoccupied Play (Newborn)

This is the first stage of play when your baby will be observing the world around them but with little or no interaction. 

2. Solitary Play (4 Months Upwards)

Once your baby’s vision and fine motor skills develop and they start reaching and grabbing objects they are able to engage in solitary play

This is an exploratory phase in young babies and a phase that lasts well into toddlerdom.

Many toddlers will continue to engage in solitary play even when they have moved onto other stages of play.

3. Onlooker Play (2 To 3 Years)

This type of play is when your young child will watch what others are doing but will not play with them. They may talk to other children but they will not engage with what they are doing.

4. Parallel Play (2 To 3 Years)

Parallel play is the stage of play where toddlers will play alongside their peers but do not interact with them.

5. Associative Play (3 Years Of Age)

Associative play is like parallel play, where the young child will play alongside others but will now engage in the same activity sometimes mimicking what others are doing such as running around or dressing up. However, their play will not be cooperative, organised or have a goal.

6. Cooperative Play (4 To 5 Years Of Age)

This is the final stage of play when young children play with each other in a cooperative fashion. They are interested in their peers and what they are doing and they will play games that require them to work together.

This stage of play helps children learn how to deal with conflict, compromise and regulate their emotions. It is a very important stage in their social development.

6 Stages Of Play Graphic

What Is The Difference Between Parallel And Cooperative Play?

Some parents often wonder what the difference is between parallel and cooperative play.

Well, (as the name suggests) parallel play is when children play alongside each other, are aware of what the other children are doing, but they will NOT work together with a common goal in sight.

Children engaging in parallel play will enjoy being around other children but are not yet ready to share their toys or take turns willingly.

The link between parallel play and cooperative play is associative play, where children will play with each other but in a rather disorganised fashion and with no common purpose or outcome in mind.

When they finally progress to cooperative play, you will notice that your child will be able to communicate a desired outcome and play their part in the group activity to achieve it. 

Cooperative play becomes more focused and organised with collaboration rather than self-interest being the main focus.

So how can we encourage our little ones to engage in cooperative play?

How Do You Encourage Cooperative Play?

As parents, we can encourage cooperative play by simply providing the right play opportunities. 

As with all stages of play, cooperative play takes practice, so ensuring that you give your child the time and opportunities to play around and with others is hugely important.

Engaging with other children on playdates, at mother and toddler groups, playgroups and nursery schools are all great places for children to learn how to play with others.

Visiting the park and having to share the swings and slides are also great ways to get your children to engage and cooperate with other children.

You can also encourage cooperative play at home by playing simple board games where they have to abide by rules and take turns.

Teaching your children good listening skills and modelling how to interact with others in a cooperative, kind and thoughtful manner will also help your child on their path to cooperative play.

What Are Some Examples Of Cooperative Play?

As well as the above, here are some examples of cooperative play activities for home and in specific play settings:

REMEMBER: Always follow your little one’s lead. If your toddler is not ready to begin socialising with others or follow rules, don’t force them to change. Give them time and try again in a few weeks time.

And there you have it! A complete breakdown of what to expect from cooperative play!

If you enjoyed this post about cooperative play and know other parents who would enjoy this content, be sure to give it a share! 

And if you’re looking for products for your little one and you’re not sure where to begin, be sure to check out my Parenting Toolbox. It is full of all my favourite products which I’ve tried to ensure are all non-toxic, eco friendly, sustainable and, of course, they’re all baby proof!

If you have any blog recommendations that you’d like me to write about or have any questions with regard to play development, be sure to drop me an email at [email protected] and let me know. I love hearing from you!

As always, thank you for your continued support! And until next time, Happy Parenting!

Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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